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A Year Like No Other image

A Year Like No Other

It’s hard to define a starting point for the global effects of the pandemic, but this is as good a week as any. Today (Thursday) is the anniversary of the World Health Organization defining COVID-19 as a pandemic, of Italy becoming the first European country to institute a lockdown, and of the U.S. soon following suit. More personally, it’s a year since the Licensing International headquarters staff switched officially to working from home.

So, as vaccines become more readily available and businesses begin to move toward some semblance of what they were before the pandemic,  it’s a logical time for some reflection on the year just passed, and thoughts on what lies ahead.

A couple of months back, we labeled 2020 The Year of Adaptation.  Companies and people rejiggered themselves on the fly, and everyone was forced to learn new skills. (Had any of you ever set up a virtual trade show booth before?) As we noted then, not all those skills involved apps and processes, but rather were about, in the words of one U.S.-based licensee: “Patience, fortitude, perseverance, never giving up.”

We’ve learned the value of good wifi, and have discovered a plethora of ways to use the word Zoom (which has turned into a generic a la Xerox, Kleenex And Styrofoam) as a noun, verb, adverb and adjective. We’ve all begun to remember to take ourselves off mute… most of the time. And many of us have discovered that we don’t miss those 6a.m. flights.

By the same token, though, the value of face-to-face relationship-building and the power of community have become only more apparent by their removal. I’ve heard “I never thought I’d say this, but I really miss Vegas” from a lot of otherwise jaded licensing executives.

We’ve seen another level of creativity applied to business relationships, as companies sought ways to acknowledge the unique circumstances brought on by the pandemic even as they protected their own business interests.

And thanks to all those who donated a total of more than $100,000 to the Small Business Global Grants Fund that Licensing International established as the pandemic ravaged so many businesses. (Companies seeking grants can apply here; deadline for applications for the current round of funding is April 15.)

Questions for the future
So what does the future hold?

Many of the questions we asked at the beginning of the year remain the same. Among them:

  • What will brick-and-mortar retail look like going forward, and what is the future of malls?
  • How much of the striking growth of eCommerce will be retained, and what are the implications for brand owners, licensees and others in the food chain?
  • What does the retail calendar look like? Was last year’s extended “holiday” season – with a devalued Black Friday — a one-off or the new reality?
  • When will people go back to cinemas, theme parks, stadiums, arenas and other places that build excitement, community, fandom and affinity for brands that licensees and licensors depend upon for their business?
  • How stable will the theatrical film release schedule be? How long will it take studios, licensees and retailers to deal with the mayhem that’s already taken place, with products ordered and manufactured for films from last year that still haven’t launched? Will retailers bank on classic and evergreen properties that are more predictable?
  • How will the streaming explosion sort itself out, and how will potential licensees learn to calculate the value of, say, a kids’ property on one platform vs. another?

The jarring period that the world has gone through since March, 2020 – and even prior to that in Asia – upended everything we thought we knew about the licensing business and the world at large. There was literally nobody who could calmly say, “I’ve been through this before, so here’s how this will play out.”

With that in mind, after much consideration, we’ve decided against researching and publishing our Annual Global Licensing Industry Study this year.  In informal conversations with industry executives, many questioned the value of such data given that 2020 was such an atypical year; several said they would be benchmarking against data from the more “normal” 2019.  That said, we’re developing other research projects designed to give the licensing industry tools to help build the business.

As we look ahead hopefully from this moment in time, we wish everyone much health and success.

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